Liberia’s Early Coppers — A Neoclassical Ideal

Though legal slavery would continue through the Civil War, the number of manumitted slaves, as well as their descendents, had become sizable enough by the early 19th century that those both for and against America’s peculiar institution found merit in the establishment of a free state in Africa as a home to these freedmen. For those against slavery, it was understood that racism, even in free states, would likely hamper liberated African Americans’ pursuit of their inalienable rights. For those in favor of slavery, the idea of freedmen assisting their enslaved brethren—be it by escape or revolt—was at the forefront of concern. As such, when the American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 with the goal of establishing a homeland in Africa for freed slaves and their families, it was met with support from both sides. The African Americans who would be uprooted in this endeavor, however, were not overly enthusiastic. Despite the many pitfalls and hardships that they had faced—and would likely continue to face—in America, it was their homeland, and the idea of emigrating was not very popular. Nevertheless, volunteers began establishing what would become Liberia in 1822 on the West African “Pepper Coast.” Over the next 25 years, more than 4,000 settlers would arrive in this new land, though disease would ultimately cut this number in half. In 1847, independence was declared, with the United Kingdom being the first nation to recognize the sovereignty of Liberia. The United States, owing to the influence of many pro-slavery southerners, did not grant recognition until 1862 following the secession of such opponents.

Switching the focus to numismatics, the Liberian dollar was introduced in the same year that independence was declared, with its value being pegged to that of the U.S. dollar. This allowed for American currency to circulate and be exchanged as a de facto local coinage. There were, however, small steps taken at a proper, national coinage in 1847 and later in 1862, with one and two cent copper coins (as well as their respective pattern issues) struck. Though the reverses of these types feature a palm tree on a coastline along with a ship visible at a distance, the indigenous flair stops there. The obverse designs, varying only slightly between the pattern and circulation strikes, instead point toward the neoclassical themes that were found on contemporaneous western European coinages like those of France. The concept of Liberty herself is represented by a left facing female bust wearing a Phrygian cap. Similar to the way in which the colony was created—from the minds of white businessmen and politicians and not from those of the freed slaves and their families—the coinage too was created through a somewhat elite, Caucasian lens.

Our upcoming Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction in June will present a generous offering of one and two cent coins of Liberia, along with a few patterns, nearly all of which verge on Gem quality and display rich, vibrant surfaces and radiating luster. Look for these interesting and desirable specimens on our website in the coming weeks!


To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions for our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money (until May 29th) as well as our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show (until June 9th), with both of these sales taking place in August. We also are accepting consignments to our June CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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